• ‘Nothing is unachievable if you work hard enough’

    08 Mar, 2022

    Mary O’Kane
    Head of Regulation, SGN Natural Gas

    I grew up in Draperstown with two brothers and three sisters. We were a close-knit group with a strong family bond and even though there was six of us, there was always work to be done.
    I suppose my strong work ethic comes from both my parents. My dad ran a farm and haulage business, and I would have helped mainly with the haulage side of things. I would spend my days helping out in the office and although I did not realise it at the time, I was learning a lot about business at an early age. 
    I went to school at the Sacred Heart Primary School in the townland of Tattyreagh, which is approximately halfway between Omagh and Fintona. My mother worked there as a primary school teacher, so there was no chance of slacking off or skipping homework! One thing that happens when you have two hard-working parents is that you soon see what a lot of work can achieve. 
    When I was younger, I thought I’d like to follow in Mum’s footsteps and be a teacher, or if not that then maybe a vet. After school ended, I went to the University of Ulster at Jordanstown where I studied communications, advertising, and marketing, and lived in Belfast for the first year of the course. I enjoyed being away, but I was still a homebird at heart and loved being around my family. I appreciated them a bit more from being away from them for a while. 
    I wasn’t sure where the world would take me after my studies, so I signed up to a recruitment agency where I worked in a few temporary roles. After a while I signed up to a one-year contract with a company called Firmus Energy. I ended up working with them for seven years!
    Initially, I was a Billing Administrator where I worked as part of an all-female team, before progressing to Analyst and then finally to Transportation Services Manager. There were always opportunities to progress, and I was always looking ahead, pushing myself and taking those lessons I had learned from my childhood and applying them to my adult life. I stayed with Firmus Energy until 2014 before going to work for the Utility Regulator. After two years there I joined SGN Natural Gas as Transportation Services Manager.
    Everyone always asks me if I work in transport. I laugh when I have to tell them I don’t, although it does sound like it! The role relates to the transportation of gas and making sure gas suppliers can effectively supply gas to customers on the network. At the minute there are five active gas suppliers that I look after. My main responsibility is making sure SGN Natural Gas is compliant with both the Network Code and the Distribution licence.
    Working in the energy industry is quite balanced gender wise, and there are more and more opportunities for people at every level. If you want to learn, this is the place. It’s hard work, but it’s a great environment with good people. 
    Lots of people in my career have inspired me. I think when you see people who are knowledgeable in their roles you look up to them, and you aspire to be the like them. This is something I was lucky enough to have growing up and throughout my career, but nothing is unachievable if you work hard enough.
    If I could offer one bit of advice on International Women’s Day, I would say “if there’s ever an opportunity that presents itself just go for it. You’ll never know what the world has in store for you unless you take the chance”.
    If you had told me that one day, I would be Head of Regulation at SGN Natural Gas I wouldn’t have believed you. It only seems like a blink of an eye ago I was fresh out of Uni and looking for my first job with the help of the recruitment agency!